A TOUCH of star quality ended Great Britain’s hopes of gaining an immediate return to World Championship Division 1A with a 2-1 defeat to hosts Lithuania.
For the third game running, GB outshot their opponents and now know that the best finish they can realistically hope for is a bronze medal.
The inclusion of NHL veteran Dainius Zubrus – who has played more than 1,150 games in the world’s top league – proved to be a vital difference between the two sides in a packed Siemens Arena.
The New Jersey Devils forward, available after his team failed to make the NHL play-offs, set up his country’s opening goal for Arnoldas Bosas in the fourth minute before scoring what proved to be the game-clincher with a powerplay strike at 31.06.
In between came a leveller from Sheffield Steelers’ forward Robert Dowd when he gave goaltender Mantas Armalis no chance at 24.41
And while Doug Christiansen’s team – with Hull’s Ben Bowns being preferred to start in goal over Stephen Murphy – continued to create chances, try as they might, they couldn’t find a way through the hosts’ defences again.
Having followed up an opening-day 4-0 loss to Croatia by beating Romania 4-1, Doug Christiansen’s team were full of confidence going into their third Division 1B game.
Now they are left facing the Netherlands on Thursday, before finishing the tournament with a game against gold medal favourites Poland on Saturday.
Despite the result, it was still a memorable day for Coventry Blaze forward Ashley Tait, who was made captain on winning his 100th cap.
GB captain Jonathan Phillips said it was an honour to hand the ‘C’ over to his former Sheffield Steelers’ team-mate, who made his debut back in 1995.
Phillips handed the lead role to Tait in a special dressing-room ceremony before the game, where the 38-year-old was also presented with a gold cap to mark the milestone.
“It was right to hand over the ‘C’ on such an occasion,” said Phillips. “Ash is a special player and I was thrilled to be on the same team as him on such a momentous day.
“It is just a shame the result did not go our way”
Tait added: “That really was a classy thing by Jonno (Phillips) and I must admit it caught me by surprise.
“I wish it could have turned out with a better result, but I felt we played our hearts out.”
Lithuania coach Bernd Haake felt NHL star Zubrus, the hosts’ captain, was the vital difference between the two sides.
“Zubrus was immense and had a great game,” said Haake.
“He was at the heart of everything we did and dominated.
“But you have to give credit to GB, because I thought they were excellent.”
GB head coach Christiansen said it was vital his players lifted themselves ahead of their encounter with the Netherlands, a team they won and lost against as part of their pre-tournament preparations back in Britain and who have yet to register a win in Vilnius following heavy defeats to Lithuania, Croatia and Poland.
“I thought Lithuania were very good,” said Christiansen.
“We played hard and committed and our guys battled for 60 minutes. I am disappointed to lose, but we have to pick ourselves up now and get ready for the Dutch.”